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Theatre Review: 'Betrayal'

Weekend!Arts: Nice words from Pinter, but no lesson
by: ©2006 JERRY MOUAWAD, Jerry (Peter Campbell, middle) plays home wrecker to Emma and Donald (Maureen Porter and Todd Van Voris) in Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.”

In real life, the venerated English playwright Harold Pinter left his wife of many years for a woman with whom he'd had an affair. The new relationship proved durable, while Pinter's former wife drank herself to death.

There is a temptation to look for insights into that story while watching the playwright's 1978 drama, 'Betrayal,' which opened at Imago Theatre last weekend. But the search is not especially fruitful.

The play gives us Emma, who for years cheated on her husband, Donald, with his best friend, Jerry. Pinter illustrates this scenario via a chronology that presents the beginning, the height and the end of the affair in reverse.

We learn in the opening scene that the affair is now over, and that Emma (Maureen Porter) may in fact be involved with another of her husband's associates. She says Donald (Todd Van Voris) has been cheating on her for years, too, although this never comes into play.

The more interesting questions revolve around if and what Donald knew and when, as well as when Jerry (Peter Campbell) knew that Donald knew, and how all of it affects the relationship between the two men.

Imago's production is knife-sharp. Director Jerry Mouawad and his team give the actors stark, well-lit spaces to work in, and they do what is asked of them with both icy precision and élan.

Unfortunately, none of it has any particular emotional impact, and the playwright's intention becomes a nagging question early on.

No attempt is made to indicate what is missing from Emma's life that she would go looking for a cure elsewhere. Nor is it clear why she finds the rather twee Jerry so irresistible.

After learning of the double betrayal, Donald, a book publisher, drinks too much and loudly announces his hatred for modern prose. He goes on to theorize that Jerry and Emma, on the other hand, love the stuff.

Then, in the play's final scene, we see that Jerry's initial seduction of Emma hinged on a tipsy but somewhat poetic declaration of his love at a party, which seems to render her defenseless.

That's it? That's the big revelation? That a woman can be captured with a few well-arranged words?

What's left out is any explanation of how a man could bring himself to steal from his best friend that which he prizes most, and hide the fact while looking him in the eye.

The 1983 film version of 'Betrayal' is generally regarded as a somewhat better than average drama made to shine by its actors, including Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley. Same goes here.

Maybe Pinter's point was not to offer anything particularly insightful. In any case, you leave the play feeling slightly dirty about what you've seen and knowing roughly as much about infidelity as when you arrived: Cheating? Not good. Betraying a spouse and a friend at the same time? Even worse.

- Eric Bartels

8 p.m. FRIDAY, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. SATURDAY, 7 p.m. SUNDAY, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, through Oct. 15, Imago Theatre, 17 S.E. Eighth Ave., 503-231-9581, $16-$26